Filies couple capped

Arian and Gemma Filies with Dr Mom and Dr Dad. Picture: Claudius van Heerden photography

Wedding anniversaries are usually a time to exchange gifts, relive that first date or cringe over those awkward moments in the video of the big day, but a Kuils River couple have capped off their two decades together by both earning doctorates.

Dr Gerard Filies and his wife, Dr Sylnita Swartz-Filies – who celebrate their 20th anniversary at the end of the month — both graduated with their doctorates at UWC on Monday August 27.

According to the university, they are the first couple to earn their PhD degree in occupational therapy together, in the same year.

Gerard has a doctorate in inter-professional education and Sylnita’s is in child psychology.

Sylnita works for the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) as an occupational therapist at special needs schools. Gerard is an occupational therapist and lecturer at UWC.

Sylnita says she chose occupational therapy as a career because she loves working with people.

Gerard hadn’t been able make up his mind about what he wanted to do after matriculating… then some students gave a talk at his school.

“A group of UWC students came to my school and spoke about occupational therapy, and that’s where I decided to give it a go.”

The couple don’t just have UWC to thank for their academic prowess… it was at the university where they first met.

Now they couple have two children. The eldest, Arian, 18, is in his final year at high school, and Gemma is 13.

“We were friends for a long time, and through our friendship, we ended up dating for five years before getting married,” says Gerard.

“And our friendship was the basis of this marriage,” adds Sylnita. “We could not get this far without friendship and communication.”

So just how do the couple juggle family, work and studies?

“I enjoy working in the kitchen,” says Sylnita, “so I never minded cooking for my family. When we studied, we would all do it together. The kids would be sitting with assignments, but we would still be around to assist them.”

Parenthood may not come with a cap, gown and a piece of paper you can hang on your wall, but it does help you organise your priorities, says Gerard.

“As parents, you learn the skill of juggling work with family time. In my case, I am a night owl, and I could sit up till late with my books.”

Sylnita says they’ve worked hard and made many sacrifices to get their doctorates, but now they want to put more time into their family.

“This is all an honour for us, but we are very humble. We don’t want people to think we have it all but we would like to encourage them to reach for their goals too.”